As Nigeria commences another constitutional amendment process, the second since its return to democracy in 1999, the issue of tenure limits rears its head again. The first time it came up in 2006, it was as the second and final term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency was drawing to a close. There was
a proposed constitutional amendment that governors and the president should serve a single six-year term. Despite repeated assurances that he was not going to benefit from the new rule, it was seen as an attempt by President Obasanjo to serve a third term. This was largely the reason why many other excellent proposals did not sail through into the amended constitution.
Not long after President Goodluck Jonathan took office, his office also mooted the idea of a single 6-year tenure for governors and the president, and ‘a little more than that’ for legislators. In this case, their excuse was the prohibitive cost of organizing elections, as seen in the 2011 polls, and that the presence of a second term makes elected officials focus excessively on being re-elected rather than on performing.
I wrote a blog post in response to this around that time, where I lampooned the proposal. Frankly, nothing in my opinion has changed:
I still believe that the excuse of the expense of elections is an exaggeration, as the 2011 elections were so expensive to the tune of N470bn or 1.97% of our GDP mainly due to the fact that we had conducted a rushed biometric registration exercise. Normally, countries take up to 2 years to do what we did in 6 months. Given more time and better costing, the elections would not have had cost that much.
Secondly, I fail to see how a second term makes elected officers concentrate more on winning re-election rather than working. It is common sense that when elected politicians perform excellently, they need not expend so much energy trying to convince the electorate to re-elect them. After all, they have already been given one chance and they ought to make excellent use of it to get more chances.
Lastly, my deepest fear with changing the constitutional limits on tenure in office is that it will set the stage for future changes too. There are too many examples around the African continent that should serve as warnings to us: Cameroun, Uganda and Zimbabwe are just but a few.
My consolation is in the fact that most Nigerians are not in support of this proposed amendment, which would most likely meet its death at the National Assembly, as long as the legislators do not ignore the voice of the people on it.